Perhaps watching dozens of tuxedo-clad college players descend from high-end buses before strolling to a gold carpet triggered the thought it would be different this time.
Or perhaps the black Labrador sniffing my laptop carrying case for incendiary devices outside the Auditorium Theatre prompted the musing.
Or it could have been Buckingham Fountain changing colors each time National Football League teams announced their No. 1 draft pick among thousands of festivalgoers.
Of course, those scenes took place outside. Inside the doors, the pre-draft introduction of No. 1 prospects by an emcee who sounded like a dance club veteran seemed a tad different from that Saturday afternoon in New York City in 1996. So were video boards and a movie screen showing football highlights.
Beyond the unending chants of “J-E-T-S!” inside the Theater at Madison Square Garden 19 years ago, little excitement infused the NFL Draft that day, the only other draft I had covered until the prime-time spectacle in Chicago on April 30. The streets around the Garden were filled with many who likely had no idea the annual selection of college talent was occurring a field goal away.
Inside the New York theater, there was nothing to look at, nothing to do. Those smart enough to bring a newspaper or magazine could engage themselves in the days before iPhones; others just stared, counting the seconds in boredom until the next pick, envying the TV audience who watched talking heads assess the ramifications of a just-announced selection.
Give the league credit: The NFL Draft has become not just a must-see television event but a must-attend event. Despite expected glitches for a first-time attempt (or, to be exact, the first draft in about half a century in Chicago), passionate fans enjoyed the football-crazed weekend in the city. Back in the 20th century, the league didn’t really think about engaging the few thousand fans on site, given that the big fish was the TV audience. Today, it not only keeps the auditorium audience entertained but draws a stream of visitors to NFL-related fun in the vicinity.
Of course, Bear fans cared not about the bells and whistles in the auditorium once the seventh pick arrived. Cheers erupted when the Lake Forest-based franchise announced wide receiver Kevin White as its top choice, eliminating a few bad memories of No. 1 picks (Shea McClellin?) which caused consternation and ultimately despair among the faithful.
And those usually boisterous Jets fans? Their J-E-T-S cheers were so meek compared to that day in Manhattan, it was like the difference between the yipping of a Chihuahua and a roar of a Bear.
Enjoy the weekend.